Data Retention Bill not feasible, ICT Ireland warns

6 May 2003

The proposed retention of data on all fixed and mobile phone calls, along with internet and email traffic, for a minimum of three years under the Data Retention Bill is excessive and could undermine the future of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Ireland, the lobby group ICT Ireland has warned in a five-point plan put forward to the Justice Minister, Michael McDowell.

The proposed Telecommunications Retention of Data Traffic Bill due to go before the Oireachtas in coming weeks has raised the ire of many civil rights groups as well as telecom carriers and internet service providers (ISPs) who seriously doubt they can log, monitor and store phone calls, text messages, faxes, emails and internet usage over a four-year period.

According to ICT Ireland director Brendan Butler, such a bill exceeds other jurisdictions in Europe, many of which are pressing for a six-month retention period at EU level. In the UK, where the infamous RIP Act has been implemented, the requirement of such data to be retained is one year.

He warned that the ICT sector will feel the major brunt of the proposed crime prevention legislation in terms of lost competitiveness and that the resultant privacy issues will harm consumer confidence in technology and buying over the internet. As well as this, Ireland’s reputation overseas as a country receptive to technology could be seriously undermined.

Butler called on the Government to make more information available on the scope and amount of data required and to engage in more dialogue with concerned organisations.

Butler warned: “The unnecessary cost implications, detailed and technical requirements it takes to store and access vast amounts of traffic data and the unclear regulations surrounding the proposal could seriously undermine the future of the ICT sector in Ireland. It is acknowledged that the sector is currently going through a challenging period but the Government are eroding this competitive advantage Ireland even more due to this heavy legislation being imposed.”

In recent months, Justice Minister Michael McDowell published a website and information forum on the proposed legislation on the Department of Justice’s website. He dismissed the growing fears surrounding the data retention legislation as ‘Orwellian’.

Calling for an open mind on the issue McDowell said at the time: “The legislation does not mean that the content of people’s calls are going to be stored on some database, or that the content of emails will be read by diligent gardaí or civil servants in some surreal re-make of George Orwell’s 1984. Law-abiding citizens at present have nothing to fear from the retention of certain information related to landline telephones, mobile phones and internet traffic, when it is being retained solely for the purpose of detecting or preventing criminal acts, such as the awful atrocity of Omagh.”

By John Kennedy